Writer: Tennessee Williams
Directors: Brandon Force, Ray Rackham, Sarah Shelton
Reviewer: Jon Wainwright
Even when the author is as great a writer as Tennessee Williams, one-act plays and early drafts are more likely to be curiosities for devotees rather than works of intrinsic theatrical merit. This production by the London Theatre Workshop convincingly disproves that assumption: here are four short pieces by one of America’s foremost dramatists that stand alone and also reveal fascinating continuities with his full-length plays. Perhaps more surprising is discovering both the comic and the absurd alongside the familiar grown-up themes of love, loss and loneliness. A fine cast of six create an experience that’s like stumbling across a dusty shoebox in an attic and finding that it contains four precious gems.
The Pretty Trap (directed by Ray Rackham) is an early rendering of The Glass Menagerie with, it could be argued, a more intriguing ending. Amanda (Anna Kirke) is the “perennial Southern belle” who concedes that her daughter, Laura (Lowri-Ann Davies), is almost as pretty as she used to be; Tom (Ross McNamara) is the dreamy son, and Jim (Jonathon Marx) the gentleman caller. The mother has all the vivacity in the house, and despairs of her daughter ever meeting, let alone marrying, a decent man.
At the dinner table, Laura only looks up at Jim when he starts talking about the dreamers and the workers uniting in a future world of television. There’s a power cut (Tom’s forgotten to pay the bill), a candle is lit, and Jim turns out to be a romantic as well as a radio engineer. Laura opens up: on a sunny day in her glass menagerie, she lives in a rainbow. She dares show him her unicorn, a mythical creature that’s no longer around but which has left behind a faint trace of its existence. She tells him about her father, who deserted them, leaving behind a gramophone and some records. Jim puts one on and persuades Laura to dance, and she undergoes a remarkable transformation.
While music is the catalyst between Jim and Laura, the acting profession supplies the urgency in the next piece, In Our Profession (directed by Sarah Shelton). Glamorous actress Annabel (Tanya Winsor) has known Richard (Harry Anton) for 48 hours and she’s already proposing. Her life is like the flare of acetylene torches repairing the railway outside the apartment window: loud, glaring, crazy, stupid. As soon as she’s out of the room he’s on the phone to his pal Paul: “The girl’s gone serious on me!” Paul comes to the rescue only to find just how accelerated the emotions can be in her profession.
Interior: Panic (directed by Brandon Force) is an early draft of A Streetcar Named Desire that is a powerful piece in its own right. Harry Anton sure knows how to wear a vest: his Jack is the kind of guy who rolls up the already short sleeves of his bowling shirt to better show off his biceps. Beside this immense, brooding presence, Tanya Winsor’s Blanche seems as delicate as one of Laura’s glass animals.
The evening is rounded off with the bizarre and brilliant Case of the Crushed Petunias (directed by Sarah Shelton), which begins as a whodunnit and ends as a glorious humanist poem to life and an invitation to venture out onto Highway 77.
The two serious and two comic pieces are perfectly balanced and intimately linked. Taken together, these four plays are an ideal introduction for anyone intimidated by the reputation of Tennessee Williams, and they are a shoe-in for anyone who is already a fan.
Runs until 1st March